Finding Old Town Hite
“You’ll have to use your knees and feet,” my hubby told me as he tried to pull me over the lip of the cliff.
Although we weren’t very high, maybe nine feet above the ground, I couldn’t convince my knees and feet to cooperate, so I dangled with my legs flared out behind me like superman in flight.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing a red cape and tights.
“I think I’ll go back down,” I squeaked, so Ted slowly lowered me to the ground.
Once on solid earth, with my knees and feet working properly again, I hunted along the cliff’s edge for a better place to crawl up, but since there were none, I returned to where Ted had ascended.
While I was gone, he’d thrown down a big rock for me to step on. Grunting a little, I tried to roll it into place.
“Do you need help?” He slid back down and moved the rock into a stable position.
“You’re the best!” I said, stepping on the rock. “Could you boost me up from here?”
My patient husband did, and this time I was able to use my knees to gain traction and push myself over the top.
I wouldn’t have even attempted the climb, but I wanted to see if there was anything left of the old town of Hite, once located on the Colorado River.
Cass Hite arrived on the scene in 1883, prospecting for silver and gold. A handsome man with a handlebar mustache and goatee, he’d already, at age 35, garnered a dangerous reputation, and, certainly, as he proved later in a deadly conflict with a competitor, he was an accurate marksman.
According to Barry Scholl’s article, “Arth Chaffin and Cass Hite: The Adventures of Two Colorado River Pioneers” in the Zephyr, April-May 2016, Hite had made friends with the fearless Navajo leader, Hoskaninni, and tried, without luck, to weasel out of him the location of a Navajo silver mine.
Instead, probably in an effort to save his friend’s life, Hoskaninni promised to take him to a place glittering with gold. He and several of his men guided Hite from Monument Valley down White Canyon to the Colorado River.
When Hite rode across the river, he called to the others that it was a “dandy crossing.” The name stuck.
Scholl says horse thief, Joshua Swett, had built a cabin near Trachyte Creek. After Hite encouraged him to leave, he did, and Hite moved the cabin near Dandy Crossing where he later ferried prospectors across the river.
That was where the hamlet of Hite took root. It featured a post office—with Cass’ brother John as the first postmaster—a restaurant, and a hotel.
In 1892, after Cass killed a man in Green River in what eyewitnesses swore was self-defense, the jury sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
There, he contracted tuberculosis which was — and is — a virulent, often fatal disease.
After the governor pardoned him a year later, a mere shadow of himself, he left Hite and the crowds and moved to the isolated Ticaboo Canyon where he became friends with his nearest neighbor, Bert Loper. He died in 1914.
In the 1930s, Arthur Chaffin established a farm at Hite, raising, among other things, dates, figs, nuts, pomegranates, melons, and grapes.
In the 1940s, often doing the work himself, he was relentless in promoting and creating a road that would allow tourists to travel through White Canyon Country.
That road eventually became Highway 95. He also created a ferry at Dandy Crossing powered by a Model A frame and engine.
My hubby and I had become fascinated by the country and its history after our search for Bert Loper’s Hermitage, so after Ted clambered back up the cliff, we headed across country toward the Colorado River where we thought there should be evidence of an old road leading to the Hite township even if the village itself was under water.
We walked down a wash, avoiding large pools of water, and then climbed onto a mesa with beautiful, sculpted red sandstone formations. At one point, we saw a downed utility pole, but we couldn’t spot a road.
When we finally came to the edge of the mesa, we looked across the river’s oxbow curve for signs of the historic settlement, but without any luck.
After eating lunch, we started the hike back to our Jeep until we came to the cliff where I’d tried to imitate Superman, but descending wasn’t a problem, and we were soon back at our vehicle.
Once there, I couldn’t help but reflect on the life of Cass Hite. As an explorer and prospector in the Colorado River canyons, he’d enjoyed a rich life full of adventure, discovery, and fame.
Although it probably wasn’t the kind of richness he’d once coveted, Tom McCourt dubbed him the “King of the Colorado,” and although he’d lived alone after his prison stay, he was deeply mourned by family and friends, especially Bert Loper who, when he heard the news of his death, wrote, “a feeling of such desolation swept over me.”
He dug Hite’s grave in the canyon “where he so happily lived.”
Like The Hermitage, Hite, and the Chaffin ranch and ferry, Cass’s grave disappeared beneath the waters of Lake Powell, but the legends live on.